There are a number of classic “reasons” for the lack of serve and volley among women in the modern game of tennis. Opinions and quotes from fans, players, coaches and commentators are many. True or not here, they are:
1. “The return is too big.”
2. “Women’s serves are not big enough and they are too small.”
3. “Racket and string technology makes serve and volley ‘suicidal.’”
4. “Women aren’t agile and quick in forward/back movement.”
I have long been a believer that women’s tennis took an ill-advised, one dimensional turn many years ago. With the onset of topspin, the baseline became the main room in the house for female players. A successful style was created and copied, commentators and coaches professing that this was the way women should play tennis. We, the coaches, professionals and spokespeople for the game bought into this in a big way. Consequently, we have undermined players’ abilities and undervalued a substantial part of the game in women’s tennis.
We all know that, generally speaking, women are not physically capable of serving the speed of men. Nature dictates this by giving men the size, speed and strength advantage. That being said, it does not mean that women cannot develop big serves. The man’s muscle mass is above the waist and women’s is below the waist. Women need to be taught to engage the center and lower body more to harness their natural power and to couple this with a proper throwing technique.
The fastest, officially-recorded, woman’s serve is 131 miles per hour by Sabine Lisicki, followed by 12 pro players who have recorded speeds over the minimum 124 miles per hour benchmark. Given the right tools and coaching, these exceptional results are attainable by women players.
It’s all a matter of the player and coach believing that this is possible and going through a solid progression. It’s also a matter of time spent, balls hit and willingness to persevere. Like anything else there are some players who will take to the challenge more naturally and with open and accepting attitudes. These players and coaches will then set the bar for others.
In the last few years, there has been a push to improve women’s serves and strides are being made to earn some cheap points. Commanding play from the serve can be the future of women’s tennis if we make it a priority. We’re not even talking about blasting untouched aces, but setting a tone and confidence for a match by using varying spin, pinpoint placement and speed. The key is to make the receiver hit returns that are outside of their striking zone. Then, returns become less accurate, less deadly and more vulnerable.
The serve always gets the blame for the lack of serve and volley for women. What about the poor old, neglected classic volley, which just so happens to be the second and equally important half of the serve and volley? The art of the volley has been stripped and robbed by forehand grips. Female players spend so much time on the baseline hitting topspin forehands and two-handed backhands that the Continental grip is a stranger. Dangerously true is that this happens daily at grassroots levels.
It’s no wonder that our most creative and versatile female players in history utilize the one-handed backhand. Using a Continental grip for the backhand leads to familiarity of what this grip provides for both the serve and the volley. The Continental grip is essential for a controlled volley. Generally, classic volleys are not meant to overpower, but to put pressure on the opponent to hit a difficult passing shot and is a necessity for the first or mid-court volley. Forward movement takes players from one physical place to another by means of hitting the shot and is an integral part of hitting this non-swinging shot.
Female players need to spend time on their volley technique and how to make that technique work on the move. If it is true that women are less good at forward movement and struggle with transitioning reflexively, then it really is for lack of doing it. Reallocate a good chunk of practice time to coming forward, learning an athletic split-step and quickening up the transition. Add a precision first volley to complete building the confidence to use a serve and volley or an approach technique. Not only will this make serving and volleying more successful, but it will enhance approaching on forceful ground shots or returns. It’s time and it takes time.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that all women players should become serve and volley players, I’m advocating a winning style of play at all levels. Use it at specific, strategic times, against specific player types, as a pressure tool, as a bluff. Just use it! Remember that when you go to the net, you will sometimes get passed. But in the meantime, you will win more points by simply approaching (and not having to volley) than you will by volleying.
The premise above is driven by facts. Craig O’Shannessy, the lead strategy analyst for ATP and WTA, cited the following facts:
An examination of the statistics shows that serving and volleying remains a winning strategy for men and women …
At the 2012 U.S. Open both men and women had the highest winning percentage (of baseline, net and serve and volley) when serving and volleying: 68.7 percent for men, 69.2 percent for women. The percentages were similar for Wimbledon 2013. Surprisingly, baseline points won were 46.2 percent for men and 47.3 percent for women.
Still, there were only 190 serve-and-volley points in the women’s tournament, and only 37 of the 128 women in the field served and volleyed at all. 19 women did not lose a point while serving and volleying.
Perhaps things will change when coaches encourage women to spend quality time on their serve, volley and the athletic movements associated with putting them together. So, let me ask again, why not?
Lisa Dodson is the developer and owner of Servemaster, a USPTA Elite Professional and a former WTA world-ranked player. She is currently the director of tennis at Shenorock Shore Club in Rye, N.Y. She may be reached by e-mail at Lisa@TheTotalServe.com or visit TheTotalServe.com.